Some Near Southsiders were a little miffed, and more than a little confused, when they heard the news about the “boutique hotel.” Proposed by the Dulabi family, who owns the property, local architecture firm Bennett Benner Partners, and California-based development company BOND Partners, the Magnolia Boutique Hotel has full backing by City Councilmember Ann Zadeh and Near Southside Inc., the 21-year-old revitalization nonprofit.
Full backing or not, some Near Southsiders are claiming they have not been properly kept abreast of the developments related to the hotel, a five-story structure with 138 rooms and a parking garage slated for the corner of West Magnolia Avenue and South Henderson Street.
Nearby Ryan Place resident John Fitzgerald said development of the otherwise empty space, currently called Magnolia Micro-Park, is welcome, but his main concern is the hotel’s projected size and height.
“The buildings surrounding the [Magnolia Boutique Hotel] are three stories or less,” Fitzgerald said, referring to special form-based code guidelines that govern construction within the Near Southside.
Mike Brennan, planning director for Near Southside Inc., said there are two buildings on West Magnolia near the proposed hotel that are more than three stories in height — Magnolia Center (five) and Magnolia Medical Tower (six).
The code does allow for construction of six story buildings that meet specific requirements, but the code does not currently allow for the construction of hotels. The Dolabi family is seeking to revise the zoning laws to allow for construction of the hotel. A vote on the proposal by City Council is scheduled for 7 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 24, at 1000 Throckmorton Street.
“It’s a historic district,” Fitzgerald said. “Putting a brand new hotel in that’s going to tower over the other buildings isn’t going to fit in with the area.”
Plans for the hotel place the building near but not within the Fairmount National Historic District, a 340-acre neighborhood that is the closest neighborhood adjacent to West Magnolia Avenue.
Fitzgerald and dozens of Near Southsiders recently formed a volunteer group, Don’t Shade on Magnolia, with the aim of raising awareness of what Fitzgerald said is the potential negative impact of the boutique hotel. His group has several members scheduled to speak at the January 24 City Council meeting. His group is also pushing its cause through an online petition that currently has 322 supporters and a goal of reaching 500 individuals.
The project’s lead architect, Michael Bennett of Bennett Benner Partners, said his firm has made transparency and community engagement a priority.
“I think there was some surprise from the residents that a six-story building is permitted” in the Near Southside, he said. “We thought a lot about this project. We didn’t have to post [online renderings] of the hotel, but I want to get this on the table now. I’m not trying to pull the wool over anyone’s eyes.”
Many of the worries expressed by Near Southside residents, he said, are shared by his firm.
“It’s not in our interest if traffic [around the hotel] doesn’t flow well,” he said, referring to a top concern voiced by members of neighboring Historic Fairmount Neighborhood Association.
The hotel’s as-yet-unbuilt parking garage, to be leased from Near Southside Inc., will provide 150 to 170 public parking spaces to mitigate streetside parking problems, he said. The hotel is projected to employ 160 full-time staffers and contribute $25 million annually to Fort Worth’s economy, according to numbers provided by Bennett and Benner.
The boutique hotel has numerous design features that will help it blend in with the look and feel of West Magnolia Avenue, Bennett added.
“Along Magnolia Avenue, [the hotel] will have a bar and restaurant,” he said. “In the lobby, we plan to hang art from locals. And we plan on providing meeting space to the Fairmount Neighborhood Association. I don’t think everybody knows this.”
Pat Bradley, Fairmount Neighborhood Association president, said her biggest disappointment through the process has been the lack of advanced notice given by city and Near Southside officials. According to Bradley, the first posted signs informing the public about the zoning changes came up January 3, three weeks after the zoning commission voted on the proposal.
City planning manager Jocelyn Murphy said residents living within 300 feet of the hotel received mailed notices about the project last November, roughly three weeks before the zoning commission voted.
A physical notice was not posted on the property until much later due to “staffing changes,” Murphy said, referring to an unexpected vacancy left when one of her staff members moved to another section within the city. That employee, she said, typically “helped us out” with signs.
“However,” she continued, “since he was not working with us anymore he didn’t get the updated list with this last case.”
The city is “not required” to post a sign before a zoning case hearing, she added, noting that all state law-required notices were made.
Bradley remains skeptical about a plan that she believes is being rushed through.
“The decision [by the zoning commission] disappointed me,” she said. “I did not think things operated that way in Fort Worth. Maybe 200 people knew about [the case], and there are a thousand-plus residents here.”
Near Southside Inc.’s Brennan said he regrets a handful of unintentional communication lapses on his part, especially in early November, when he was discussing the hotel with the volunteer group Fairmount Neighborhood Preservation Committee over email. Bradley was not included in those discussions, he said, but he has reached out to the Near Southside community via social media and group meetings.
Roxanna Latifi, former president of the Fairmount Neighborhood Preservation Committee, said the email she received from Brennan early last November did not provide details about the boutique hotel but rather requested a meeting to discuss a “proposal.” Latifi said a more descriptive email would have prompted an urgent response from her preservation group.
Councilmember Zadeh said in an email that the current design for the hotel meets many of the Near Southside’s goals for mixed-use development.
“I have heard from some nearby neighbors who have expressed concerns regarding drainage and traffic,” she said, referring to the potential for increased water runoff when a large water-absorbing green space is paved over with concrete. “I am working on responding to those concerns and have directed staff to address those questions.”
If the zoning requests are approved by City Council, Bennett said construction of the hotel could begin as early as a year from now. Construction of a project of this size, he added, could take 18 months to complete. He expects some level of opposition to the hotel to continue, but he said his firm would not have taken on the project if his staff didn’t believe the hotel was the right fit for West Magnolia Avenue.
“This kind of boutique hotel fits the Near Southside,” he said. “It is not a corporate hotel. People get hung up on the word ‘boutique.’ It describes the attitude of the hotel and the high level of service. It’s not a Marriott or Hilton. It’s an individual business run by individual people.”
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect new information.